Leading fresh produce businesses have called on the industry to pull out all the stops to recruit and keep staff at a time of labour insecurity.
At this week’s London Produce Show, a series of industry figures offered their advice to growers to ensure they have a happy and motivated staff.
Mel Miles of Freshtime UK said his company aims to be a “values-driven business”, pointing out that there is less than one per cent unemployment in Boston, Lincolnshire, and that supporting staff is therefore a fundamental business practice. “If we are not a nice place to work, nobody will come to Freshtime,” he said. “There’s a cultural benefit in terms of the whole business. If we had decided not to go down this path then I don’t think we would still exist.”
Freshtime puts on policing and housing workshops, reward schemes, and has such things as free pizza and ice cream days. “We want everyone to cope with the challenges of working in our industry. Making them enjoy their day makes a big difference and they can’t do that if they have housing problems. It’s the right way to behave,” Miles said.
BerryWorld’s Emma Henry explained that her company’s set of values helps it understand employees and assist with their own decision making. “Having good ethics and values in your company has a positive effect on your business, and benefits people. Caring for your workforce with good-quality, comfortable, safe accommodation is important. A happy and rested workforce is great for morale, and mental health is more important now. We use FPC guidance around temporary accommodation.”
Sam Ludlow Taylor from Waitrose & Partners pointed to the retail group’s “principle of democracy” that allows everyone a say in how it is run, with staff having the chance to have their say on committees. “We call employees ‘partners’,” she explained. “As an employee you spend a lot of time at work. You are the only person that knows what the most important thing is for your wellbeing; people are not commodities and don’t all want the same thing. Health and safety should go above and beyond, and people at lower levels must be able to have conversations with those above.
“As a retailer we look to work with companies that share our values and have a high-quality product,” she continued. “You can only get a high retention rate with a properly engaged workforce. It doesn’t mean you have to bow to every whim, but it’s about explaining your decisions.”
Harry Hall, from Hall Hunter Partnership, employs 3,000 people and urged boardrooms to “get in touch with their emotions”. “We want our employees to realise their full potential – these are bold people who want to move their lives forward,” he said “Have clarity about where you are going. Worker forums are really good for staff relationships but if you don’t act on those concerns that’s even more dangerous."
Hall Hunter also offers employees loans for deposits to buy houses, and has not yet had a default, he added.
Emmett UK’s Katie Ford said the company has worked hard to make itself an “employer of choice”. We are a family business and want our staff to feel part of the family,” she said. “Saying 'thank you' goes a long way. There are three key things: health and safety, treating others as you’d wish to be treated, and building, retaining and training your people.”
Listening to workers is key, she added. For Emmett UK’s staff, really good personal protective equipment was important, so the business bought the best wellington boots and warm rigs, and installed lockers and wifi in the canteen. She said this helped the business achieve a return rate of 98 per cent.